Touching All the Bases
In baseball, a home run is awarded only after the player hitting it has touched all the bases. Having said that, I would like to suggest that the team chaplain is the last base to be touched before rounding third and heading for home. Every team needs a good coach, be it the hitting coach or batting coach, and a solid trainer in the workout room, too. Having just one or the other is inadequate. However, the training regimen is still not complete without the spirtual guidance of a chaplain. King Solomon once said, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work…Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12).
Back in the late 1990’s I had the privilege of leading a few chapel services for the Toronto Blue Jays and their opponents. These included the Florida Marlins, Cleveland Indians, and the New York Mets. I met up with the Blue Jays’ team chaplain, David Fisher, prior to the game on a Sunday. We would visit each team’s clubhouse for a brief, 20-25 minute service where players and other team officials would meet. Even members of the media came at times. Jerry Howarth, radio announcer for the Jays, once called me “Pipes” because, he said, “You have a voice for radio!” This time consisted of a short opening prayer, a message from Scripture, and a closing prayer. Players would sometimes ask for prayer for specific issues they were facing, such as injuries, family concerns, or how to deal with the adoring/jeering public. One player (whose name will not be mentioned in order to spare him the embarrassment) even put his bat in the chapel room to have it “blessed” during a prolonged slump! He himself didn’t come but somehow thought the prayer offered by the chaplain would change things for him at the plate. Another player was troubled by fans hunting him down after the game, waiting for him at the players’ exit, demanding that he pay their mortgages! Many of these men faced incredible temptation in every city they went to for a series from women offering themselves sexually. Drugs, of course, are also an issue. With all the problems facing professional athletes it makes sense that a chaplain is a good fit to ensure a well-rounded team.
The professional arena is not the only place where spritual care is needed. My friend mentioned earlier, David Fisher, has had a tremendous impact within the ranks of the Ontario Hockey League. After leaving the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization, having been its founding chaplain, David started working with his hometown Peterborough Petes. He had forged a strong friendship with the late Roger Neilson, who coached the Ottawa Senators. David’s nephew, Sudbury Wolves prospect Mike Fisher, had signed on with the Sens and this opened the door to ministry within the OHL. David’s weekely Bible studies with the Petes over the years regularly attracted an almost 100% participation level. Even coaches and trainers attended.
The jury is still out on whether or not the chaplain should be viewed as a necessary part of the team. Although this argument may not be solved any time soon, there are many players who have been helped over the years by the counsel and encouragement of their chaplain. They just might offer the most significant insight of all…experience.
Brian Horrobin is the Pastor at First Baptist Church in Wallaceburg where he started in 1993. Brian will be writing a series of articles focusing on Religion and Sport which will be published here on CKSN.